It is almost unheard of that a major national infrastructure project can be traced back to a single event, but the Police National Database (PND) is one rare example.
Responding to the Bichard enquiry
In 2002 in the UK, two children, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, were murdered by school caretaker Ian Huntley. This led to a public inquiry led by Sir Michael (now Lord) Bichard. His primary recommendation was that all UK police forces should share the intelligence – observations, reports and suspicions – held on their individual systems. If such a system had been in place, Huntley was likely to have been identified as a serious threat to children far sooner.
The Home Office, as the main body providing nationwide services to support frontline policing, has led the delivery of what is now known as the PND. It is changing the way British police forces work.
What the Home Office needed
Joining up the existing intelligence held by police forces across the UK was a huge task involving around 200 different databases, many of which held information in incompatible ways – it was not simply a matter of connecting the databases but of converting their contents so they were compatible. The system also needed to be totally secure, so no data could fall into unauthorized hands.
As an interim measure, an Impact Nominal Index (INI) was set up. This allowed police forces to see that information was held on an individual or event by another force or forces. But retrieving that information meant sending an e-mail or fax requesting details and the reply could take up to two weeks to arrive. The subsequent PND had to make access to the full original intelligence easy and fast.
All 43 autonomous police forces in England and Wales hold intelligence data, as do the eight Scottish forces, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, British Transport Police and other national law enforcement agencies such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), with existing crime, intelligence, custody, child abuse and domestic violence data held in hundreds of individual databases across the country.
Bringing them together as one, coherent, searchable database was a challenge. Forces recorded people, events and even colors in different ways. Names are not always spelt correctly, while many people on the databases have several aliases. Links between individuals are recorded differently.
There had to be strict controls over access to the consolidated database, as well as a way of allowing each separate database to update the central database in near real-time.
The data also needed to be reviewed and, through the Home Office Management of Police Information project, each force was urged to examine its data for duplications and outdated intelligence before preparation for sharing through the PND.
CGI and the Home Office worked with each force and agency to standardize its data, using a specially adapted program that automatically converts disparate methods of recording data into the single method to be used by the PND. This has saved months of manual changes. The same program automatically converted new data into the format used by the PND. The program is helping to address some of the complex IT challenges which PND’s development and delivery has presented. Depending on the characteristics of a force’s databases, it automatically updates the PND, either when new data is input or in daily batches.
The PND was established at one of our secure data centers and linked to force databases and terminals via a fully encrypted network. We installed an intelligent search function that allowed searches by person, object, location or event. This would highlight, for example, aliases; events in a named road or area; and known or suspected associates. The search function also suggests possible alternatives to look at, such as different spellings of a name or the same date of birth of differently registered people, which could identify a person using more than one name.
A success story
The PND closes gaps and enables the police to see the complete intelligence picture. Intelligence checks that were previously very difficult to carry out manually or that took up to two weeks via the stopgap INI system now take minutes. Depending on their access grade, 12,000 registered PND users can now directly make connections between suspects, events and locations.
Results followed within days of the system becoming operational. Examples include:
- A northern organized crime group found operating in the south
- New information about more than a third of missing sex offenders registered in the London area
- Information relating to one man's child sex offenses dating back seven years, which led to safeguard action
- A major drugs supplier found to be operating across several police force areas
We are now moving onto a second phase, where analytics will be overlaid onto the data, allowing police to move even faster by automatically seeing suggested connections between people, objects, locations and events in a simple, graphical format.
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